Optimize Your Diet With Three Simple Tips
Information overload has caused a lot of confusion when it comes to figuring out how to approach proper eating habits.
I manage to stay pretty lean year round. I define “pretty lean” as approximately 10% body fat, give or take a percentage or two. But it wasn’t always that way. I was by no means blessed with “good genetics” for being ripped. I had never seen an ab muscle in my life until I hit my mid 20’s. I sifted through a ton of conflicting information from countless sources for years before I got it right, but I’m glad that it worked out the way it did, because now I can tell you what is and is not worth prioritizing so that you can get the results you want — faster than I did.
Below, I’ve listed three of the most common dieting mistakes I’ve seen people make over the years —myself included — and how to address them.
#1. Understand that it’s okay to eat things you enjoy
I’ve seen people turn down a piece of birthday cake because they don’t want to be “knocked out of ketosis” by eating carbs. It’s one thing if you’re strictly adhering to a certain diet for medical reasons, or you’re trying to hit five percent body fat for a competition, but that kind of thing is absolutely unnecessary if you’re otherwise healthy and your only goal is to look and feel good. The mental stress is not worth the benefit.
I eat gluten. I eat dairy. I eat carbs. I don’t follow a keto, vegan, paleo, carnivore, or vegetarian diet. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those. It’s just not what I do. There’s more than one way to get lean, and it’s not necessary to feel like you need to marry yourself to a particular diet that you just plain don’t enjoy being on. If you do enjoy any of those diets, don’t think I’m telling you to stop now; by all means, keep doing what works for you. But there is no “one best diet” — that’s a misconception that has caused a lot of confusion for a lot of people.
Find foods that you enjoy and anchor your nutrition around them. Don’t think “diet”; think “daily habits”. If 80% or more of your daily eating is based around good decisions, you can eat the cookie. You can eat the cake. And it’s not going to matter.
#2. Eat accordingly to your activity level
This is a very simple concept, but can also be the source of confusion because of the popularity of calorie counting.
Now, I personally am a calorie counter, because I’m one of those crazy people that actually enjoys doing it. If you count calories as well, that’s fine, but do it with the understanding that the exact number of calories you’re taking in daily should be fluid. In other words, eat appropriately for your activity level on any given day. If you’re logging 12,000+ steps a day, on top of working out, then you’re going to need to eat more. If you’re not training and are logging closer to 2,000 steps, you won’t need to eat so much. Don’t starve yourself, and don’t gorge yourself either.
In the past, I felt that because I was calorie counting, I always had to “hit my macros” right on the button, every single day, no matter what. But it’s not practical to strictly adhere to precisely X amount of calories a day, just like it’s not practical to overfill a car that’s still got a full tank of gas, just because you want to fill up at exactly 3 o’clock every Friday afternoon.
You’re not always going to be doing the same exact things; some days you’ll be doing heavy squats, some days you’ll be binge watching Netflix. Your eating should reflect that, so adjust accordingly.
#3. Pack your lunch
Ridiculously simple? Yes.
But it really helps.
I’ve been in the work force for about 15 years, and one constant among the many co-workers I’ve had is that at some point between 12 and 1 o’clock, a lot of them will disappear for a brief period and almost always return with a box of takeout in one hand and a 20 ounce soda in the other.
Why’s this a problem? Well, as an occasional thing, it’s not. I’m not saying you should never eat out. But the problem is that this sort of thing is part of a normal, Monday through Friday routine for so many people. Easy math will explain why that can add up to be a serious issue.
If you’re eating out at restaurants five days a week, chances are it’s not the leanest, cleanest option you could possibly have. High calorie oils, excessive condiments, and a 300 calorie soda as the cherry on top can easily skyrocket a single lunch over the 1,000 calorie mark. And that’s a single meal. We haven’t even taken into account eating out on the weekends, what you’re snacking on in between major meals, and so on. It adds up fast.
Remember: Weight is not lost or gained in a single day; it’s the cumulative effect of your behaviors over an extended period of time. If you can go from a 1,000 calorie lunch every day to a home made, 500 calorie lunch, you’ve just created a deficit of 2,500 calories a week.
For example, my lunch yesterday was 6 ounces of chicken, shredded cheese, fajita vegetables, white rice and beans. It was delicious, it kept me full for the rest of my work day, and all together, it came out to be around 550 calories. Try picking out some convenient, easy-to-make ingredients that you enjoy and take a few minutes once or twice a week to prepare several of your work lunches in advance.
There’s also the nice benefit of saving about fifty bucks a week in eating out. A fatter bank account and a thinner waistline is win-win.
Base your eating around foods that you consistently enjoy, be flexible with how much you’re consuming every day, and if you‘re eating out more than you should be, invest the time into your health and happiness by planning your meals ahead.
These three tips alone have helped me get into the best shape of my life and stay there, not just for a few weeks, not just for a month, but for years. They can help you do the same.
Oh, and drink more water. But you already knew that.
Thanks for reading! If there’s a topic you’d like to know more about, I would love to help. Let me know in the comments and I’ll make it happen! I appreciate it.
Click here to be notified whenever a new story is published. — Zack